Four Theorems of African Archetype and Landscape

  • La Barbara James Wigfall Kansas State University
Keywords: Human dimension, socio-cultural landscapes, lessons


Today, designers must study and understand the culture of a place. In a “globalizing” world where standardization often rules with unfortunate consequences, it is imperative that professionals have strategies for understanding values and rituals of people, including their traditional ways of building community. Qualitative methods and grounded theory were used to interpret the human and historic landscape dimension of settlements in the United States and Africa. The origin, evolution, and destiny of African-American settlements in the United States began as a precursory, multi-disciplinary dialog with the American landscape. Since the original hypothesis centered on socio-cultural and eco-physical factors influencing communities where inhabitants were “emancipated” to determine their destiny, slave villages were not extensively documented. The research was aimed at determining how African Americans had contributed to the built environment. Early communities did not adhere to traditional Western designs or to African building practices but were impacted by racial separatism and belief in ethnic superiority. As a result, African American structures and settlements were largely vernacular in nature, eclectic in style, and driven by the socio-economic, political, and physical context of the region. Attention turned to African landscapes in order to understand the juxtaposition between African and western cultural archetypes. While the natural environment supports a diverse lifestyle, many aspects of the urban landscape are in flux and incongruent, depending on the tribes, customs, and environmental conditions. Unplanned settlements, with their incompatible environmental practices, co-exist adjacent to newly developed land uses. Four theorems emerged from observation in Africa over a series of extended field visits dealing with layering of privacy, material use, relationship between developmental practices and belief systems, and cultural erosion related to the evolution of settlement and socialization. Observing and thinking critically about how culture is revealed and illuminated could aid in developing design strategies that would richly reflect tradition as the African landscape narrative expands.
How to Cite
Wigfall, L. B. (2014). Four Theorems of African Archetype and Landscape. ARCC Conference Repository.